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’Tis the season to count many sports blessings

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays—a chance to take a brief timeout from a career and a life that lately feels as if it’s zipping by as rapidly as a ball off the barrel of Aaron Judge’s bat. It’s a day that allows me to spend some quality time with loved ones, to truly give thanks. Before the tryptophan kicks in, please indulge me as I express my gratitude for the many blessings the world of sports has provided.

I am thankful for:

  • My birthday and Father’s Day games of catch with my kids, grandkids and bride;
  • Butterflies fluttering in the stomach before a kickoff, first pitch, tipoff or opening faceoff;
  • Athletes who give back the way J.J. Watt, LeBron James, Andy Dalton, Mike Trout and Mookie Betts have;
  • 30,000 orange-clad Syracuse basketball crazies stuffing the Carrier Dome to the rafters in the dead of the winter;
  • Youth league and high school coaches and parents who get it—that it’s not about winning at all costs, but rather about doing your best, respecting your teammates, opponents and the game, and having fun;
  • Jim Kelly’s remarkable fortitude;
  • The annual Challenger Baseball World Series at Frontier Field, and how it gives kids with disabilities a chance to show off their abilities;
  • Being limber enough to still be able to play senior softball;
  • The sounds of bats hitting baseballs, sneakers squeaking on hardwood courts, putts dropping into cups and skate blades carving up ice;
  • The never-fail-to-bring-a-smile-to-your-face malapropisms of late catcher/wordsmith Yogi Berra;
  • Warm, summer nights in the company of family and friends watching Rochester Red Wings games at Frontier Field;
  • Being there to see Mickey Mantle muscle baseballs into the upper deck, Michael Jordan sink a buzzer-beating, game-winning jumper, Muhammad Ali light the Olympic cauldron, Frank Reich engineer a miraculous comeback, Syracuse upset top-ranked Nebraska in football, Michael Phelps swim to a record eighth Olympic gold medal, and Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods drain long and winding birdie putts at Oak Hill Country Club;
  • The passion of Buffalo Bills fans whose loyalty knows no bounds, despite all the years of unfulfilled hope;
  • Evocative, thoughtful sports stories;
  • The heroism of Don Holleder and Bob Kalsu, who gave up promising football careers and their lives while serving their country in Vietnam;
  • My friendships with Rochester sports figures Johnny Antonelli, Joe Altobelli, Roosevelt Bouie, Fred Costello, Jody Gage, Jim Johnson, Gary Larder, J-Mac, Dan Mason, Eddie Nietopski, Diann Roffe, Naomi Silver, Soccer Sam Fantauzzo, Don Stevens, Cathy Turner, Felicia and Iris Zimmermann, and many others;
  • Movies such as “Field of Dreams,” “Hoosiers,” “The Pride of the Yankees,” “Bull Durham,” “Slap Shot” and “The Natural”;
  • The magnetic attraction of Lord Stanley’s Cup;
  • Coaches like Bari Mance, who while battling cancer has taught her St. John Fisher College softball players lessons that go far beyond the diamond;
  • The Green Monster at Fenway Park, the ivy covering Wrigley Field’s outfield walls, and the massive brick warehouse overlooking Camden Yards;
  • Having known sporting friends no longer with us, including Jean Giambrone, Jerry Flynn, George Beahon, Nick and Sammy Urzetta, Al Cervi, Carmen Basilio, Rick Woodson, Mike Fennell, Tom Batzold, Kent Hull, John Ricco, Pearl Washington, Bob Schwartz and Bob Parker;
  • The Baseball Hall of Fame in bucolic Cooperstown;
  • Athlete, scholar and author Tim Green, whose books and literacy programs have brought the joys of reading to tens of thousands of middle-schoolers, and who now is waging a courageous fight against ALS;
  • Yankees pinstripes, UCLA’s powder blue and gold football uniforms and the Rochester Americans red, white and blue crest;
  • The Courage Bowl, a Gary Mervis-inspired idea that, among other things, gives kids with cancer an opportunity to be a part of a college football team and cheerleading squad;
  • Classic sports books, such as “The Boys of Summer,” “No Cheering in the Press Box,” “Friday Night Lights” and “A Season on the Brink”;
  • The ceremonial first pitch;
  • Ralph Wilson, who brought the Bills to western New York, and ensured they would stay here;
  • The annual Rochester Press-Radio Club Children’s Charities Dinner, which brings to town some of sports biggest names and has raised $750,000 for worthy, local causes in the past 15 years;
  • The Army-Navy football game;
  • Trips to Syracuse and Yankees games with my best friends;
  • Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest man on the face of the earth” and Jim Valvano’s “Never, ever give up” speeches;
  • Memories of my first ballgame at Yankee Stadium with my dad on Sept. 17, 1966;
  • Teachers and coaches, who, early on, saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and pointed me in the right direction;
  • Co-workers like Frank Bilovsky and John Pitarresi, who helped me grow as a story-teller and a person;
  • The opportunity to do something I love—write and talk about sports—for 45 years; and
  • People like you who have read my stuff and passed it on to others. Couldn’t have done this without you.

Best-selling author and nationally honored Rochester Business Journal sports columnist Scott Pitoniak will be signing copies of his various books at the Webster Barnes & Noble on December 1 from 1-3 p.m.

4 comments

  1. I love these. Since I don’t know much about sports, it is fun to read about the funny little stories you throw into your columns. This article prompted me to look up “things Yogi Berra said” and I’m having a good laugh this morning. I’ve heard a few but I had never heard “I don’t know (if they were men or women fans running naked across the field). They had bags over their heads.”

  2. Good memories and comments. Well done.

  3. Hi Scott,
    Really enjoyed this and all your writings.
    In case you don’t already know, there is a Senior Softball get-together at MacGregor’s on Buffalo Road at 1:00 on Saturday, December 1. Hope you can make it.
    Also, if you happen to run into Eddie Nietopski, please give him my best. Feel free to lie and tell him I’m still a decent ballplayer.
    Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

    Joe Germano

  4. Happy Thanksgiving Scott! I am thankful to have known one of the best sports writers ever in my life.

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